Monthly Archives: December 2015

Hump Day: Routine gets thrown out the window during the holiday season

Hump Day 2 croppedHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015
Moncton Times & Transcript

This is the weird time of the holiday season when we’re in between everything. While many are still full throttle into Christmas, it’s being dismantled bit by bit as we move on to New Year’s Day and the long winter ahead.

Despite the muffler on Santa’s sleigh still being warm from his trip around the world a few days ago, we’re definitely in the post-Christmas era when the trees are starting to come down, outdoor lights aren’t a priority anymore and Christmas music on the radio is pretty much impossible to find unless you subscribe to a satellite service or listen online.

While I love the holiday season as much as the next person, I have to admit that it will be nice when everything gets back to normal next week. A routine can turn into a rut pretty fast, but a routine can also provide some structure for getting stuff done. The holidays are definitely a time when routines get thrown out the window. Sleep and work patterns change. Television and radio schedules are all over the place.

I know one thing, my favourite time is when the stores close on Christmas Eve. There’s nothing quite as peaceful as travelling the streets visiting people after 6 p.m. on Dec. 24 when virtually everything is closed for a couple of days. The mall parking lots are empty. Except for a few fast-food restaurants and gas stations, retailers are darkened.

It’s time for a return to routine, though. After a few days of food debauchery, I’m in desperate need of a fresh raw vegetable – something not covered in sugar or chocolate. There is only so much holiday food a person can handle until it’s time to revert back to more everyday fare. (If you’re in desperate need of Christmas candy, feel free to visit my mother’s house. You will leave with a barrel full of goodies. She and her husband can only accommodate a few thousand requests before they run out, though, so get your barrel over there early!)

As we put away the Christmas decorations for another year, our thoughts now turn to New Year’s Day and the hope that the turning of the calendar page gives. When I was a kid, New Year’s Eve meant my parents going out to a party and the three little Cormier angels (hey – it’s my column and I can rewrite history if I want to!) getting a babysitter. I’d always try to stay awake until midnight while watching television. I succeeded a grand total of zero times. The next thing I knew, I woke up the next morning in my own bed. My career as a late-night party animal was not off to a good start.

new year foodMy parents always brought home party treats, though. The kitchen table would have three colourful party hats and three noise makers to ensure that each Cormier ‘angel’ had their own and there’d be no bickering. (Who? Us?) By the looks of both of my parents on New Year’s morning, though, they must have really loved us to be brave enough to put out noise makers on a morning when they would have rather had peace and quiet. (There may have been a few parental demands to put off playing with the noise makers until later in the day.)

In the refrigerator, there were some snacks taken home from whichever party they were at, including sandwiches, some treats and rolled-up sliced ham. For some reason, I always thought that a rolled-up slice of ham from a New Year’s Eve party was the epitome of high class. It’s the only time of the year I ever saw them rolled up, so maybe I equated them to a special occasion. Even today, put a rolled-up slice of ham in front of me and I’m likely to break out into an off-key rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Whatever the case, we can’t stop the end of the holiday season. We have to look forward to a new year starting in a few days and to spring which will be here before we know it. In the meantime, we need to make the best of this winter by enjoying the outdoors if you love the snow or getting some projects done inside the house if you’d rather stay toasty warm.

Either way, we can continue the magic and goodwill of the holiday season throughout the winter months ahead with family, friends, music, books, crafts and movies to keep ourselves occupied until spring arrives. We don’t have much choice, now, do we?

Make this winter awesome! That’s my New Year’s resolution. Happy New Year!

Hump Day: Stores closed at Christmas mean it’s time to hoard!

Hump Day 2 croppedHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015
Moncton Times & Transcript

In just a few hours, Santa Claus will be hooking up the reindeer to his sleigh and getting ready to travel around the world delivering gifts. He’s been eating his spinach for energy; has a few hundred thermoses of coffee on board; and has been cutting back on carbs since Labour Day so that he can slide down chimneys without getting stuck.

He knows that he’ll be loading up on sugar on Christmas Eve with all those cookies left out for him, so he may only take a bite or two out of each one. If they’re especially delicious, he won’t be able to resist, though. Santa never met a chocolate chip cookie he never liked.

While Santa is getting ready for the big day, retailers are gearing up for a much-needed couple of days off before the Boxing Day sales – which have morphed into Boxing Week sales in the past few years. While we have Black Friday Lite here in Canada, the Americans have the real Black Friday. Our Black Friday is Boxing Day sales with crazy door-crasher prices and deep discounts on everything from leftover Christmas decorations to electronics and everything in between. A lot of gift cards and Christmas card money will be spent during Boxing Week sales this year!

But before the big retail rush on Dec. 27 (most retailers in New Brunswick must remain closed on the actual Boxing Day, Dec. 26), there will be two days of silence in the malls, grocery stores and big box retail outlets. At least for me, in recent years this has resulted in a bad case of pre-Christmas ‍hoarding just in case I run out of something on Dec. 25 or Dec. 26.

toilet paperI’m usually fine earlier in the week, but then Dec. 23 comes around and I start to think up worst-case scenarios, such as, “What if 64 rolls of toilet paper aren’t enough to get me through two days?” Of course, there are pharmacies open that sell the stuff, but when you’re in pre-Christmas ‍hoarding mode, you aren’t thinking straight.

What if you get sick and go through 64 rolls in two days? What if a bunch of carolers show up at your house who need the bathroom? Now, of course that’s all silly, but pre-Christmas ‍hoard‍‍ing mode never met a bit of silliness it didn’t believe. Besides, if one person went through that many rolls in two days, you’d likely end up in an induced coma in the hospital with weeping relatives surrounding your bed and a priest making the sign of the cross on your forehead with anointing oil during last rites.

And then there’s the milk, bread, bacon, potatoes, eggs – all the staples of a regular kitchen. Since the stores will be closed for two days, one might as well stock up on all that, too, right? Like, I mean buy enough for an entire army. What if every one of your relatives – even the dead ones – show up on your doorstep demanding to be fed as soon as the grocery stores close on Christmas Eve? An unlikely scenario, but pre-Christmas ‍hoarding frenzy plays with your mind.

Two days with no stores open? What if I need a new shirt? Pants? Socks? Underwear? A polka-dot bowtie? A tuxedo? A top hat? Well, the smart thing to do would be to look in your closet first and then decide whether or not you’re going to through all your clothes in two days. The chances are slim. But, just in case, it might not hurt to buy a few things – you know, because I might suddenly need to go to a black-tie formal banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth on Christmas Day.

I can’t be the only one who feels a sense of panic when I know the stores are going to be locked for 48 long hours. The same thing happens to me during blizzards. I stock up like it won’t stop snowing for a month. (God forbid! Maybe I’d better not even think about that, considering how last winter went.)

Despite my best efforts to restrain myself, if I go crazy this year I may just end up opening my own bed and breakfast and invite guests in to spend a week to help me get rid of all the food. It would be a great way of earning some extra money to pay for all the gifts I bought, too!

Let’s hope we can all restrain our ‍hoarding habits this year and that we’ll survive the two-day retail shutdown. I wish you all a Merry Christmas – one filled with lots of anti-hoarding personal discipline and control.

Hump Day: Trying to stay organized in the age of information (and distraction)

Hump Day 2 croppedHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015
Moncton Times & Transcript

With the end of the year in sight, many of us are starting to think of ways to keep ourselves better organized beginning in January. Our hopes, of course, are to plan and document what we’re doing every second of every day. On Dec. 31 of next year, ask me what I was doing on Feb. 21 and I’ll be able to give you a rundown of my day in nauseating detail. At least, that’s the goal.

After the Christmas rush, it’s ‘personal organizer’ time in the office supplies stores! A fresh, blank, dated diary just waiting to be filled with appointments and various to-do lists. Hmmm… maybe that perpetually disorganized and befuddled friend or colleague would like one for Christmas? After all, I wouldn’t want them to be jealous of my soon-to-be highly organized life, right? They would feel bad about themselves after that – and that would be cruel of me. They deserve to be organized, too!

But wait; maybe it’s not that easy. An article I read recently by Moncton-based human resources management consultant Pierre Battah got me thinking. In these days of multiple platforms for staying organized, there are too many options available now to assume that someone will want a traditional paper agenda. A quick search online, in fact, will come up with many different options for being efficient. If you use MS Outlook for your email, for example, you can use the calendar feature to keep track of your appointments and even send reminders to your smartphone.

organizerThese days, there’s really no excuse for not staying organized. It’s more about limiting distractions. That’s my problem right there. Now that I’m online virtually all day working, my attention span has dwindled down to nothing. Even a 15-second ad that I’m forced to watch before being allowed to view a YouTube video annoys me. And visiting a website chock full of various rabbit holes of links will no doubt lead me to getting distracted by clicking on stories I’d never intended to read. An hour later, I’m asking myself, “Wait, what was I doing in the first place here? What was I trying to accomplish?”

No amount of organization can help you with that. You just have to discipline yourself to stop following every shiny object you see online. Otherwise, a one-hour task will most certainly end up taking three. I need to learn how to Taser myself.

I run two systems for keeping organized because I tend not be consistent one way or the other. I use a paper-based traditional agenda and also record everything electronically. Both work very well when I use them. And because I flip back and forth, I have to maintain both up to date. Unfortunately, the paper one seems to be getting used less and less these days unless it’s purely for note-taking during meetings.

Regardless, about once per year I gulp and realize that I missed a meeting. Distracted. Not paying attention. Those things happen. Then you glance at your schedule and go ‘Oh no!,’ then apologize profusely and try to make amends. Not much more you can do – except not let it happen again!

To be honest, though, I have to confess that I make full use of sticky notes and scratch pads. I always have a scratch pad next to me on my desk for making varieties of to-do lists and writing down notes from telephone calls. Most of the time, it works great – as long as I don’t forget to maintain the more formal schedules.

I think 2016 may see me relying more and more on my electronic calendar, though. It’s difficult to forget a meeting when reminders are constantly popping up on your computer screen. And since I’m online for most of the work day, it only makes more sense, although physically writing down something is very powerful, too.

The main thing is not to forget any more meetings. It’s definitely advice you’d get in Dale Carnegie’s legendary book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. A no-show equals no friends!

And speaking of reminders of important events, I’m glad I wrote on a bunch of scratch pads to remind myself of something very important this week! That was to sincerely thank you – dear Hump Day readers – for 10 years of loyalty. The first Hump Day column (called ‘At Large’ back then) appeared on Dec. 14, 2005. Thanks to all of you for the (mostly) kind words over the past decade and for saying ‘Hi!’ if you see me at the grocery store. I’m glad you’re still speaking to me after more than 500 columns! I’m very grateful!